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Baroness Joan Bakewell: The revolution of my lifetime

OPINION: 'In my own life I learned you needed to be resolute, determined, not taking “no” for an answer'

19 November, 2021 — By Baroness Joan Bakewell

Broadcaster Baroness Joan Bakewell

THOSE who have lived as long as I have – some nine decades – have seen momentous changes, a complete revolution in the lives, status and opportunities for women.

It has been without doubt the greatest social shift in my lifetime.

There remains much to be done… equal wages, working conditions, shared childcare – but for me the heavy lifting has already happened.

Both my grandfathers were factory workers, a cooper, and an iron turner in inner Manchester.

Their homes were terrace houses, two up two down, opening onto the street and with a yard behind.

One grandmother was a housewife bringing up eight children; the other a seamstress, dying young from TB.

My parents – growing up in this background – were keen to “better themselves”, eager for education, clean jobs, a semi-detached home.  They did all this … and  in turn fired my own ambition.

I became an exam-passer: the 11-plus, School Certificate and Higher, then a place in Cambridge.

Social mobility was fine for those who were bright enough and worked hard. Not so for the rest.

I soon realised the world was run by men – at the BBC, in journalism, in government.

I pushed for change: asking for women to read the news (refused) asking for in-house childcare(refused).
Then the pill brought big opportunities: it put women in control of their bodies; it gave them confidence – and the time – to press for improvements.

From the mid 1960s the pressure for change grew. Numbers made a difference – so did strikes.

Personal choices eased up: divorce became easier, homosexual behaviour was no longer criminal. Legislation established equality at least as a principle, though it was sluggish to go into practise … and still is.

In my own life I learned you needed to be resolute, determined,  not taking “no” for an answer.

Being a freelance suited many women who were also bringing up children. A whole raft of talent flowed into journalism, writing, publishing broadcasting … eventually reaching politics, finance, business.

For me one of the greatest rewards has been the emergence of strong ties between women themselves – warm and loving friendships, supportive colleagues, fellow campaigners.

We couldn’t have done it without each other.

And still can’t.

• Baroness Bakewell is a writer and broadcaster who lives in Primrose Hill

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